Environmental Must-Reads – March 19, 2015


Denton’s fracking ban leads to pro-oil bills in Texas Legislature, newspaper reports

Months after citizens in Denton, Texas, voted to ban fracking in their city, Texas lawmakers have filed numerous bills that would give cities less opportunity to regulate the oil and gas industry, the Texas Tribune reported Tuesday (March 17).

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who chairs the House Energy Committee, said, “We need to restate that principle that the state has responsibility to regulate the oil and gas industry,” the story said. “I don’t know where people might have believed that the state was not going to assert fully its rights to regulate that.”

Senators hotly debate language in fracking bill

The debate over whether to allow fracking in Maryland lit up the state Senate chamber Wednesday.

Legislators from western Maryland oppose a bill that would hold fracking companies accountable for any damage done during the process, saying it would kill any chances of cashing in on natural gas deposits in the state.

Fracking-friendly bills back before Ohio lawmakers

Ohio’s oil and gas industry and environmental groups are satisfied with a compromise reached this week on one bill before the state legislature, but both camps remain divided on controversial community right-to-know provisions in another pending bill.

Gov. John Kasich’s House budget bill, House Bill 64, would exempt oil and gas operations from providing hazardous chemical information directly to local authorities and emergency responders.

Doctor loses lawsuit that challenged secrecy of fracking fluid

A federal appellate court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by an area physician challenging a law that precluded him from releasing information he obtained regarding chemicals contained in hydraulic fracking fluid.

Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, of Dallas, challenged Act 13 of 2012, which allows medical professionals to learn the ingredients in fracking fluid if the information is used to treat patients, but requires them to enter a confidentiality agreement.

America’s Fracking Mayor: Rahm Emanuel

When Rahm Emanuel became mayor, the city of Chicago was making lists of top green cities in America. During the election he pledged support to a community movement aimed at closing the polluting Fisk & Crawford coal plants. But after taking office, Emanuel significantly increased Chicago’s use of fossil fuels by negotiating an energy aggregation deal that takes 95% of its power from natural gas.

Residents scored a victory for healthy communities when a grassroots movement forced closure of the Fisk & Crawford plants. Just as important is how we replace deadly coal power. After Chicago resolved a local environmental justice problem, Emanuel created a new one by switching to a power source that harms people in more distant, rural communities.

Fracking water disposal opponents want their opinions heard

Nebraskans living any more than half a mile down the road from a proposed disposal site for wastewater from oil and gas production have been told they will not get to testify at a public hearing on the project.

Opponents of the Sioux County injection well, like rancher Ronda Rabe Hasenauer of Harrison, are outraged at being blocked from telling the three-member Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission about their concerns during a March 24 meeting at the commission office in Sidney.

San Benito County fighting to protect voter-approved fracking ban

San Benito County is facing a $1 billion legal challenge from an oil exploration company after voters banned all fracking with Measure J in November.

County supervisors recently approved the creation of a legal defense fund to help protect the fracking ban against the lawsuit.

Coalition challenges science behind Interior grouse protections

A coalition of the oil and gas industry, mining groups and local governments in four states is formally challenging some of the core scientific documents the Interior Department is using to protect greater sage grouse habitat covering millions of acres of public lands across the West.

Specifically, the coalition is challenging three reports under the Data Quality Act that the Interior Department is using to justify amending as many as 98 Bureau of Land Management resource management plans (RMPs) and Forest Service land-use plans to add grouse conservation measures.

Non-U.S. Shales Prove Difficult to Crack

After spending more than five years and billions of dollars trying to re-create the U.S. shale boom overseas, some of the world’s biggest oil companies are starting to give up amid a world-wide collapse in crude prices.

Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have packed up nearly all of their hydraulic fracturing wildcatting in Europe, Russia and China. The reasons vary from sanctions in Russia, a ban in France, a moratorium in Germany and poor results in Poland to crude prices below what it can cost to produce a barrel of shale oil.

Probe Into East Harlem Explosion Focuses on Gas Line

A federal investigation into the East Harlem explosion that killed eight people just over a year ago appears to focus on the connection of a natural gas line with a main running along Park Avenue, according to documents released Wednesday.

Investigators found that a T-shaped connector joining a plastic service line to a plastic main had separated at 1642 Park Ave., according to the documents from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is still investigating the blast that occurred on March 12, 2014. Service lines deliver gas to buildings.

Inquiry Into Deadly East Harlem Explosion Focuses on Con Ed’s Plastic Pipes

Federal investigators studying the deadly gas explosion that leveled two buildings in East Harlem a year ago are focusing on the plastic pipes that Consolidated Edison installed beneath Park Avenue three years before the blast, documents released on Wednesday revealed.

The National Transportation Safety Board posted more than 3,000 pages of documents related to the investigation on its website. The safety board’s conclusions about what caused the explosion, which left eight people dead and many others injured, are expected in a final report in a few months.

Pipeline company offers reassurances after recent spill

The company responsible for the largest saltwater pipeline spill in North Dakota’s history answered questions Wednesday about lessons learned as it proposes to build new crude oil pipelines in the state.

Meadowlark Midstream and Epping Transmission Co., both subsidiaries of Summit Midstream, presented to the North Dakota Public Service Commission plans for a 14-mile transmission pipeline in Williams County.

Antioch residents consider legal action over underground pipelines

Underground pipelines have some Antioch residents considering legal action.

The natural gas pipelines, operated by Columbia Pipeline Group (CPG), run through the Harbor Landing area.

Deerfield threatens to include Massachusetts in negligence claim over gas pipeline

The town will extend its negligence claim against the federal government to include the state if the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities grants the company proposing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline access to private property in Deerfield.

Conway lawyer Cristobal Bonifaz, who represents Deerfield in its battle with Kinder Morgan over the pipeline, filed his notice with DPU Tuesday. Kinder Morgan is awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin constructing the 36-inch pipeline, which would run through 125 miles of Massachusetts and deliver up to 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Anadarko buys into Colorado-to-Cushing pipeline project

Oil producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is putting money behind an $800 million pipeline that will carry crude from its turf in Colorado to storage tanks in Oklahoma.

The Woodlands-based firm said Wednesday it had purchased a 20-percent stake in the company building the 550-mile Saddlehorn pipeline, which is expected to start piping oil from the DJ Basin to the oil hub in Cushing in the middle of next year. It didn’t disclose the price of the purchase.

U.S., Canada under pressure on oil-train safety

Federal regulators in North America are under pressure from industry bodies and environmental advocates worried about the safe transport of oil by rail.

North American crude oil production has increased to the point that there’s not enough pipeline infrastructure to handle deliveries. That leaves energy companies to rely more on rail as an alternate transit method and, with that, comes more derailments involving trains carrying oil.

Oregon oil train terminal pays reduced fine for ‘serious violation’

The owner of an oil train terminal near Clatskanie has agreed to pay a reduced fine for moving six times more crude oil through the facility in 2013 than was allowed.

Massachusetts-based Global Partners will pay $102,292 as part of a settlement with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s top environmental regulator. That’s $15,000 less than the agency originally proposed last year.

Day after boasting of Gulf’s health, BP confirms 25,000-pound tar mat

On Monday, BP released a statement claiming the environment of the northern Gulf of Mexico had returned its “baseline condition” five years after its Deepwater Horizon disaster pumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf off Louisiana’s  coast.

But on Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard was supervising the ongoing removal of a large oil tar mat on East Grand Terre Island that has yielded more than 25,000 pounds of oil mixed with sand since late February, BP spokesman Jason Ryan confirmed.

Tar mat uncovered as BP report downplays oil spill impact

On the same day that BP released a report stating that its massive oil spill five years ago did not have a lasting impact on the Gulf environment, the Coast Guard responded to the largest tar mat uncovered in more than a year.

WWL-TV sent a crew out to Grand Terre 2, a key barrier island at the mouth of Barataria Bay, to see for ourselves. We found BP’s cleanup operation wrapping up two weeks of work digging up oil/sand mix and transporting bags of the material off the island.

10 Things BP’s New Report Doesn’t Tell You

BP just released a new report on the state of the Gulf, Gulf of Mexico: Environmental Recovery and Restoration. The glossy report is filled with footnotes and citations, but leaves key pieces of science out.

If you are interested in the ongoing impacts of BP oil spill, stay tuned for National Wildlife Federation’s upcoming report Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster: Five Years and Counting. This new report, which looks at 20 species of wildlife or wildlife groups, will be released March 30.

BP report says Gulf rebounding, but government officials, environmentalists dismiss results as ‘cherry-picked’

The Gulf of Mexico and coastal shoreline environments have already rebounded from the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, according to a new report issued Monday (Mar. 16) by BP, a month before the five-year anniversary of the disaster.

“Areas that were affected are recovering and data BP has collected and analyzed to date do not indicate a significant long-term impact to the population of any Gulf species,” said BP Executive Vice President Laura Folse, who directs the company’s response and environmental restoration program in the Gulf, in a note introducing the report.

Mooringsport oil spill moves into monitoring phase

Ongoing cleanup at the site of a major crude oil spill that happened five months ago near Mooringsport, Louisiana, has progressed well enough it’s moved into a long-term monitoring and maintenance phase.

Still, no timeline is offered as to when the work can be considered complete. Oversight agencies will keep an eye on wildlife and vegetation in their assessment of what, if any, penalties are filed against Sunoco Logistics, owner of the 20-inch Mid-Valley Pipeline that carries crude oil from Longview to Samaria, Michigan.

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit targeting Exxon over Arkansas oil spill

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil over a 2013 oil spill in Mayflower, finding that he was wrong in granting class-action status and that right-of-way land contracts didn’t require the oil giant to maintain its Pegasus pipeline.

Landowners sued the company after the pipeline ruptured, spilling over 200,000 gallons in a Mayflower subdivision.

Crude oil, salt water contaminate Waskada area farmland after Tundra Oil spill

Winnipeg-based Tundra Oil and Gas is cleaning up a spill that contaminated farmland near the town of Waskada early last month.

President Ken Neufeld said the company made the discovery on Feb. 5 during one of the aerial tours it conducts to check its operations.

He says about 200 cubic metres, or about 1,200 barrels of a mixture of crude oil and salt water spilled due to “internal corrosion” that broke a line underneath farmland the company pays a right of way for.

Nigeria: Hundreds of oil spills continue to blight Niger Delta

Royal Dutch Shell and the Italian multinational oil giant ENI have admitted to more than 550 oil spills in the Niger Delta last year, according to an Amnesty International analysis of the companies’ latest figures. By contrast, on average, there were only 10 spills a year across the whole of Europe between 1971 and 2011.

Shell reported 204 Niger Delta spills in 2014 while ENI, which operates in a smaller area, reported a staggering 349 spills.

After Toxic Ash Spill, Energy Company And Locals Struggle Over Solution

When utility companies burn coal to make electricity — and it generated 39 percent of U.S. energy in 2013 — it leaves behind ash that can contain arsenic, selenium, boron and many other toxic substances.

For decades, that ash simply has been buried in pits near the power plants and covered with water. Now, in North Carolina, it’s become a multibillion dollar problem. After a massive spill into the Dan River last year, the state ordered Duke Energy to clean up more than 100 million tons of stored coal ash, and the company has drawn up a plan that involves transporting it to two abandoned clay mines in Lee County.

Christie Administration Deal With Exxon Was Years in the Making

In summer 2012, lawyers for Exxon Mobil Corporation gathered in a state office building in Trenton, ready to hear what the State of New Jersey might be willing to accept in exchange for making a long-running environmental pollution case go away.

By then, a judge had already held Exxon liable for potential damages in the contamination of more than 1,000 acres of land at refinery sites in Bayonne and Linden. In court, the state was seeking $8.9 billion, including more than $2 billion for the primary restoration of the properties.

How clean is a cleanup? Exxon sites scrutinized as N.J. seeks settlement

By Gov. Chris Christie’s telling, New Jersey’s $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil is an historic win for a state lawsuit against a polluter, one that comes on top of an ongoing cleanup that the oil giant is required to perform.

By his critics’ telling, that sum is less than three percent of the $8.9 billion lawyers for the state sought at trial, and won’t turn back the clock on a century of industrial pollution at two refinery sites in Union and Hudson counties.

Ex-Workers Plead Guilty in West Virginia Chemical Spill Case

Two former employees at Freedom Industries pleaded guilty to a pollution charge Wednesday in last year’s chemical spill in West Virginia that fouled a local tap water supply.

Ex-Freedom plant manager Michael Burdette and environmental consultant Robert Reynolds entered the pleas at separate hearings to negligent discharge of a pollutant.

Pipeline Nation: America’s Broken Industry

A pipeline network more than 2.5 million miles long transports oil and natural gas throughout the United States — but a top official in the federal government’s pipeline safety oversight agency admits that the regulatory process is overstretched and “kind of dying.” A recent spike in the number of spills illustrates the problem: the Department of Transportation recorded 73 pipeline-related accidents in 2014, an 87 percent increase over 2009.

Despite calls for stricter regulations over the last few years, the rules governing the infrastructure have largely remained the same. Critics say that this is because of the oil industry’s cozy relationship with regulators, and argue that violations for penalties are too low to compel compliance.

Why Arctic Oil Seems to be Putting Northern Nations on Combat Alert

As known sources of oil are depleted, previously inaccessible areas of hydrocarbon wealth are becoming prospective targets of exploration. Namely, the Arctic.

Under its seas and ice rest some major deposits of oil. Based on collected data, many analysts think there’s a whole lot more that we haven’t seen yet.

New Regulations Proposed on Arctic Ocean Drilling

The Arctic Ocean is one of Earth’s last pristine places, as well as one of the United States’ largest depositories of oil and gas. Given the harsh Arctic climate, it has proven very risky to drill those resources, as the world witnessed in the 2012 Kulluk disaster. Taking these challenges into consideration, the U.S. government proposed new regulatory requirements that would revise and add new requirements to regulations for exploratory drilling and related operations on the Outer Continental Shelf off Alaska.

Chernobyl: Containing the world’s worst nuclear accident

Rising above the scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident is the spectacular sight of the largest moveable structure ever created on land.

The complex of nuclear power plants at Chernobyl has dominated this corner of northwest Ukraine for decades but the new construction towers over it all.

Baker Lake Inuit, NWT Dene pledge to fight uranium project together

Inuit and Dene from Saskatchewan have joined forces in opposition of Areva Resources Canada’s proposed Kiggavik uranium project outside Baker Lake.

Baker Lake’s hunters and trappers organization signed a declaration of cooperation with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories March 11, a document the two parties submitted to the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s two-week hearing into the uranium project.

Radioactive waste builds-up near Fukushima four years after Tsunami in Japan (photos)

Many residents of Okuma, a village near the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, are angry about government plans to dump some 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the March 2011 nuclear disaster in a sprawling waste complex on their doorstep.

Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years. In the four years since the disaster, Japan has allocated over $15 billion to lower radiation levels around the plant.

French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo publishes cartoon on Fukushima nuclear disaster

French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo took aim at Tepco’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station in its March 18 issue.

A cartoon on the theme of “spring” depicts two people in protective gear talking about this year’s first swallow, while looking at footprints of a huge bird with a smoke-spewing nuclear power plant in the background, suggesting that a bird had grown to an enormous size due to radiation.

Fukushima disaster prompts woman to pass on father’s stories about A-bomb

Born to parents exposed to radiation from the world’s first atomic bombing — carried out by the United States on Hiroshima in 1945 — Mari Tamba said it is her responsibility to talk about the war to young people even though she did not directly experience it.

Tamba, 65, who lives in Ama, Aichi Prefecture, became a storyteller of the war and the atomic bombings about three years ago in the wake of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, which was wrecked by the powerful March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Radiation From Fukushima Is Probably in Your Sushi, but It Isn’t Going to Kill You

There’s a steady, low, background level of radioactivity we encounter in everyday life. Some of it is human-made but very diffused, born out of the atomic and nuclear testing of the mid-20th century. Some of it is created naturally: radon gas seeping from marble floors, for instance, or the increased dose of cosmic rays that airline passengers get during a flight.

Few people think about these exposures. But since Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011, there’s been worldwide concern that the plant contaminated Pacific Ocean seafood enough to affect human health.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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